A response from three Book Day Committee members: Trevor Noah

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Last spring, the Book Day Committee, consisting of a diverse group of more than two dozen students and faculty, overwhelmingly approved “Born a Crime.” As the three faculty members who proposed Trevor Noah’s memoir, we feel compelled to address Schuyler Rabbin-Birnbaum’s opinion piece is this week’s Record.

First off, the Tweets cited in the opinion piece (and others) that Noah wrote as a younger comedian are in poor taste and offensive. There is no excusing them.

After Noah was chosen to take over The Daily Show in 2015, and the controversy over Noah’s earlier tweets surfaced, Jon Stewart (one of Noah’s mentors and The Daily Show host at the time) responded, “I do hope you give [Noah] an opportunity to earn that trust and respect, because my experience with him is that he is an incredibly thoughtful and considerate and funny and smart individual, and, man, I think, you give him that time, and it’s gonna be well worth it..” Having all spent considerable time with Born a Crime, we can say that Noah is indeed well worth it.

The memoir is about a boy, “born a crime” growing up in South Africa, a country built on generations of “perfect racism.” If readers zoom out and look at his circumstances, they might easily deduce that there is no way out for Noah. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Racist systems crush people. Mountains of historical evidence back this up. But Noah’s mother has the audacity and bravery to build a home filled with radical and transformative love. This foundation allows Noah to thrive with a mix of self-confidence and humor. It doesn’t, however, guarantee his success.

As he navigates through apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, we see Noah stumble, make terrible mistakes, and succumb to identity crises. Watching him find a pathway to redemption, despite the destructive forces of his world, is the true gift of the memoir. 

Noah, in his way, gives us a framework to not only discuss the crippling effects of racist systems, but also the ways in which we continue to create and re-create ourselves over time.

His offensive Tweets only further reveal that Noah continues to stumble and make mistakes.

Writers, like all humans, are fallible. Sometimes they write distasteful, even hateful, things. The complicated issue of what do about art made by artists who cause offense is not one we should ignore. We commend Schuyler for raising these important issues. We hope they will provoke even more valuable Book Day discussions.


Chidi Asoluka

David Berenson

Barry Bienstock